S.H.I.E.L.D: The Early Years

The popularity of Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. timed with the American public's appetite for spy fiction (James Bond, Man from U.N.C.L.E., Secret Agent) lead Fury to jump forward into the Cold War from his Howler days in World War Two. The eye-patch wearing Fury made his first appearance as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. in Strange Tales #135. Fury and his agents shared rack-space with Dr. Strange through issue #168, until they premiered in their own title; Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. This run lasted 15 issues of original material with the last three featuring reprints from Strange Tales. During this time Nick Fury adopted his second most influential (some say primary) creative force in artist/writer Jim Steranko, joining the S.H.I.E.L.D. creative team during the Strange Tales run and kicking off the S.H.I.E.L.D. title debut.

The Strange Tales and Nick Fury, Agent Of S.H.I.E.L.D. runs introduced most of the core supporting characters that would continue through five-plus decades of S.H.I.E.L.D. tales; among them Sgt Fury alumni Dum Dum Dugan and Gabe Jones, joining Lee/Kirby's Jasper Sitwill and Laura Brown and later joined by Steranko's Valentina DeAllegria, Clay Quartermain, and resurrected from the pages of 1950's Atlas comics, Jimmy Woo.

Also Nick Fury's villains gallery took shape in these years. Two previously introduced characters, the Yellow Claw and Baron Von Strucker returned and featured as two of Nick Fury's greatest foes. Scorpio, an original creation of Steranko, was introduced during the title series and although appearing only a few times, would grow to become a major foe.

In 1967, Steranko's run on S.H.I.E.L.D. was honored with an industry Alley Award for Best Normal Adventure Hero in their popularity poll and Strange Tales won for Adventure Hero Title with One or More Characters in Own Strip. The following year, 1968, Steranko swept with a Hall of Fame award for his S.H.I.E.L.D. work, Best Pencil Artist and Best Cover for S.H.I.E.L.D. #6. In addition Steranko's swansong in Strange Tales, "Today Earth Died" won for Best Feature story. With two ongoing and award winning title series (in two different time periods no less), featuring some of the brightest of Marvel's core talent, Nick Fury never again matched the sales and popularity of this period.

After the cancellation of the S.H.I.E.L.D. title, Nick Fury ironically lived on in his own past in the Sgt Fury comic that by now had begun its reprint stage, enduring all the way to 1981. Fury returned briefly in a reprint series, Nick Fury and His Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. in 1973, with a few new covers. With no single writer guiding Fury, his characterization, as well as the mission of S.H.I.E.L.D. varied to the whims of the writers who used them. S.H.I.E.L.D. became a frequent staple in the pages of Captain America and Iron Man. One highlight during this time involved Howard Chaykin and Jim Starlin's Marvel Spotlight #31 with the introduction of the Infinity Formula to explain his lack of aging (in the face of the Marvel time slide).

The early 80s saw a two-issue reprint series, the first issue featuring a now iconic wraparound cover by Steranko.Fury fans didn't have long to wait as stories like Scorpio Connection and Nick Fury Vs S.H.I.E.L.D. were just around the corner.

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